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Abilities and Knowledge in Educational Achievement Testing: The Assessment of Dynamic Cognitive Structures

Messick, Samuel J.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Achievement Tests, Aptitude Tests, Cognitive Ability, Predictive Measurement, Test Theory


Educational achievement refers to what an individual knows and can do in a subject area. Since knowledge is not merely retrievable information but an organized structure of relational understanding constructed from information by processes of cognition, educational achievement testing inevitably entails the assessment of both knowledge structures and cognitive abilities in some combination. As a consequence, tests of achievement and of cognitive abilities overlap conceptually and are substantially correlated empirically, leading to considerable confusion between achievement and abilities as constructs and between achievement tests and ability tests in practice. This paper analyses the theoretical bases for important distinctions between these two constructs and argues that a clearer delineation of the role of cognitive abilities in educational achievement has direct implications for improving educational processes as well as educational testing. (31pp.)

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